Nathen Urrutia had a chance to visit Santa last year at the Clinton Community Hall. (Miranda Johnson photo-submitted)
Nathen Urrutia had a chance to visit Santa last year at the Clinton Community Hall. (Miranda Johnson photo-submitted)

Nathen Urrutia had a chance to visit Santa last year at the Clinton Community Hall. (Miranda Johnson photo-submitted) Nathen Urrutia had a chance to visit Santa last year at the Clinton Community Hall. (Miranda Johnson photo-submitted)

Clinton Christmas: ‘tiny village, giant heart’

Christmas greetings by Miranda Johnson

I have had the privilege to experience living in quite a variety of different cities and towns throughout the years. From near seven years spent in the searing heat of the Las Vegas desert with its almost comical disregard for any sense of ‘normalcy’ to the more colourful fast-paced ‘tryin’ to keep up with the Jones’ lifestyles of Los Angeles.

What I did not find in these cities with their tall buildings and aggressively packed freeways, culturally diverse eateries and shops, and all sorts of life experience at my fingertips, was a community quite like the one I’m about to tell you about.

After living in the USA for close to 10 years, my heart led me back to the place of my birth, beautiful British Columbia, this time with a plus one, my son Nathen who was nearing eight years old at the time. After a series of events, some unfortunate and some evidently more fortunate, we found ourselves living part-time in Clinton while I worked remotely with Ministry of Transportation, based out of Revelstoke.

When we arrived, we knew no one in Clinton, besides my partner Chris, who was posted at the Clinton RCMP detachment at the time. There are some who might have questioned how on earth one could so easily go from living in cities like LA, or Las Vegas to a tiny blip on the map, a place so small that if you blinked, you’d miss it. Well, stranger things have happened, like the discovery of so many beautiful, caring and kind souls all living together in one small place.

Clinton can be found somewhere between 100 Mile House and Kamloops. Its population is roughly 650 (no, that isn’t a typo). Hold your breath for 30 seconds and you will have gone from one end to the other before that time is up.

READ MORE: Memories of Christmas past in the Interlakes

My first interaction with the kind folks of Clinton began with a Friday night dinner at the Legion, Branch 194, to be exact. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking walking into a place where you know nobody, but they all know each other, as is the way of small towns. Walking into that place with my son who is unique in his own ways due to the fact that he has high functioning autism and ADHD, I worried about all of the things a mother naturally worries about, and a little more. When you have a child whose idea of personal space is practically nonexistent and whose elbow has a mind of its own, a place where nobody’s utensils are safe, or indeed their plates, from an accidental launching of food across the table, I didn’t carry high hopes of things going well.

As was to be expected, trying to make a good first impression was quickly abandoned in favour of simply helping him to keep his dinner on his plate and an errant elbow out of his neighbour’s plate, and a flailing fork out of the sweet elderly woman’s hair to his immediate right.

But the good people of Clinton took it all in stride and seemed highly amused and I daresay entertained by my son’s antics. Whether he was being purposefully mischievous or honestly careless, they didn’t bat an eye and treated him as if he were their own grandchild. My heart breathed a sigh of relief that he was so immediately accepted into the fold and that first Legion dinner began months of Friday night dinners with some of the best people I have had the privilege of meeting.

A lovely couple whom I like to think of now as our very good friends, Jim and Lois Thompson, pretty much unofficially adopted Nathen as their own grandchild. They would drop by the house with random thoughtful gifts for him, stuffed animals, a microscope, a blanket, really anything they thought he would like. They would offer (and he would beg us) to go for early Saturday morning breakfasts at their house, where they taught him to make pancakes and even drive a mini excavator, playing board games with him, letting their ears be talked off by his obsession with the weather and every type of cloud in existence.

They gave him experiences I was not able to give him, nor had the patience for. As other full time working mothers know, by the time work is done, house chores, and getting your child to bed, there is precious little time or desire to participate in extracurricular activities. The small amount of time you have to yourself at the end of the day is quickly consumed by the noise of the TV as you crash into bed by 8:30 pm to fall asleep by the 10-minute mark of another Netflix show you didn’t need to see anyway, and a small twinge of regret with a promise to self to ‘do better tomorrow’.

I will never forget last Christmas in Clinton before COVID-19 changed nearly everything about our current way of life. Nathen adores Christmas – the lights, the presents, the merriment of it all – he lives for that. Being that he was far away from all his family, except for myself and my partner that Christmas, I know that he was really missing his grandparents who live in the USA and the other pair who live in Quesnel. We had to drive back to Revelstoke that evening, but the Legion was throwing a Christmas party on Sunday morning and I knew I didn’t want Nathen to miss out on it.

When we arrived on Sunday morning all the kids were decorating cookies or making Christmas ornaments, and for such a small village the sense of community in that hall was ginormous. But the memory that stands out to me the most that day was that every child in attendance received a Christmas present, donated by the wonderful people of Clinton through the Legion. And they made sure that every single child’s name was called, and they would each go to the front of the hall in front of everyone to receive their present.

When Nathen’s name was called his whole face lit up and he looked back at me to make sure that he heard correctly. I got a little teary-eyed as he went up, face shining in anticipation. But for me, it wasn’t about any physical gift, it rarely ever is. It was about this tiny little community with their hugely giant hearts and their capacity for kindness and caring for two strangers in their midst.

That to me is the true spirit of Christmas, the true spirit of giving. So, thank you, Clinton, for teaching my son the value of kindness, and that the spirit of giving isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for all four seasons. We will never forget you, and it’s true what ‘they’ say it really does take a Village.

Miranda Johnson now lives in Castlegar. You can read her blog:

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